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Researchers develop liquid nitrogen spray that removes lunar dust

In a significant breakthrough that might solve a problem that has been on on-going threat to future lunar exploration, researchers at Washington State University have developed a liquid nitrogen spray that appears able to remove the Moon dust that sticks to spacesuits and equipment.

The sprayer removed more than 98% of moon dust simulant in a vacuum environment with minimal damage to spacesuits, performing better than any techniques that have been investigated previously.

You can read their paper here.

During the Apollo lunar landings the astronauts found Moon dust to be a serious problem. It is not only abrasive and attaches itself to everything, it caused in some astronauts what they called “lunar hay fever”, suggesting that on longer Moon missions the dust could cause serious health issues.

The process is not yet perfected. For example, it has not yet been tested in lunar gravity. Moreover, techniques for applying this spray practically during actual lunar operations do not yet exist. Nonetheless, this appears to be the first technique found that might work.

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On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • Andi

    Suggestion for last sentence of second paragraph:

    “… the dust could cause serious health issues”


    “… the astronauts could face serious health issues”

  • Andi

    Sorry, meant second-from-last paragraph

  • Andi: The first is what I thought I had typed. Now fixed. Thank you.

  • Actually, electron beam treatment may be another method and has been studied although more research is definitely needed:

  • John Jossy: Thank you. I missed this story. With two different methods the possibilities of solving this difficult problem increase enormously.

    We must remember that merely cleaning gear is not enough. There must also be a system to keep the dust from entering habitats when people go in and out. It must be possible to clean the airlocks, and do it before the occupants enter the main interior.

  • Edward

    Some decades ago, a family friend worked in a university laboratory that used liquid nitrogen. When my father and I visited him in his lab, he showed us a trick, or rather phenomenon, in which he poured some liquid nitrogen from a dewar and the LN turned into droplets that skittered around the floor picking up dust and carrying it away to wherever the LN skittered to before it finally evaporated away.

    From the Paper’s Introduction:

    Cryogenic liquids harness film boiling which aids in the removal of dust and improves upon previous fluidal mitigation methods [[14], [15], [16]]. The precise mechanisms of interaction between the liquid nitrogen, fabric surface, and dust grains have not been determined. However, liquid nitrogen has been observed to encapsulate and then transport solids during film boiling. This coupled with the rapid expansion of gas during liquid boiloff, which may result in liftoff of dust grains, is anticipated to explain the high levels of removal. Liquid nitrogen sprays have demonstrated 97.0% removal in a terrestrial environment, independent of cleaning surface and >90% cleaning in a vacuum environment in less than 1 s [15].

  • Frank Solomon

    When I first saw the headline here @ BtB, I wondered about the nitrogen itself. All this looks like a great idea, but it would need constant nitrogen resupply from Earth, which would become a horrible expense. Then I read the embedded Science Direct article. Fortunately, it mentioned

    ” . . . Further, full recycling of all system consumables is possible if gaseous air is liquified using a cryocooler on the lunar surface, ideally aided by the low temperatures in shadowed regions . . .”

    so in theory, this won’t become a problem. After installation, the system would only need some start-up air, energy (sunlight -> electricity), and maintenance.

  • Star Bird

    Have you ever seen the effects of Liquid Oxigen on a flower? They shatter to teensie weensie peiees

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